After two weeks of debate, the U.S. Senate passed a bill approving construction of the final leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, by a 62-36 vote. Nine Democrats joined the entire Republican caucus in defying a promised veto of the law by President Barack Obama. Though the House of Representative passed bills approving the pipeline 10 times since Obama took office, this was the first time an up-or-down vote was allowed in the Senate, coming only after Republicans gained control of the upper chamber.
Upon completion the full pipeline would move an estimated 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Proponents say it would create jobs and decrease America’s reliance on foreign oil. They note Obamas’ own State Department has issued two separate reports determining Keystone poses no threat to the environment or increased greenhouse gas emissions.
‘Good for the Middle Class’
Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, says Keystone is an important symbol of the Obama administration’s opposition to North American oil production.
“For more than six years, the Obama administration has had one question to answer with regard to Keystone XL: Is the pipeline in the ‘national interest?’ Obviously, more oil from Canada is in the national interest,” Simmons said.
“But for more than six years, the president has refused to make a decision. The answer is simple. Approve the pipeline,” he said.
“It’s what the majority of the American people want. But the Obama administration is more worried about what extreme anti-energy activists want, than what’s good for the middle class,” he says.
Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, said the president opposes Keystone because he is beholden to environmentalists.
“Environmentalists have drawn a line in the sand over Keystone XL, and they will not budge. But the irony lost on much of the media is that oil is already flowing through a pipeline from Canada to the Midwest for the last three years. The Keystone XL project that everyone is arguing about is just the last phase of a larger project,” explains Matthews.
Most of Pipeline Established
Phase 1 began operation in 2010, carrying oil from Alberta across three Canadian provinces and six states to refineries in Illinois, Obama’s home state. Phase 2 went operational two years ago, expanding the system from Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing, Oklahoma, a major U.S. oil refining and storing hub. Phase 3, still under construction, extends the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.
Only the last phase, Phase 4, a pipeline from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska has been delayed.
“The great mystery here is why Obama hasn’t already approved Keystone XL, most of which is already built,” said Matthews.